As BCS commissioners meet, conference expansion is the subtext


“Expansion” will replace “playoff” as college football’s new buzzword when Bowl Championship Series commissioners convene in Phoenix on Tuesday for annual spring meetings.

Two years ago, at meetings in Florida, the commissioners settled the short-term playoff issue by rejecting a modified “plus one” proposal that would have matched the top four schools in a mini-tournament after the bowl games.

“The word I would use is stable,” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said when asked to describe the state of college football’s postseason. “We’re all contracted for four more seasons. The majority of presidents support the system.”

While a few lawmakers, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), continue to push for congressional action to eliminate the BCS system, the sport’s most immediate concern is reconfiguration.

Expansion is not an official order of BCS business this week, but it figures to dominate backroom discussions.

Key BCS meeting talking points:

The Big Ten. The conference, which is actually comprised of 11 schools, is contemplating a move to 14 or 16, which could radically transform the national landscape. The Big Ten’s key target reportedly is Notre Dame, a football independent that turned down a chance to join the league in the late 1990s. Depending on which other schools the Big Ten might court, the ripple effect could even be large enough to threaten the Big East’s existence as a major football conference.

“Expansion is coming,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said last week on a Big Ten coaches’ teleconference. “We’re naïve if we think that you can sit back and watch everybody else move ahead…. We better start thinking about where we’re going.”

The BCS and Congress. The BCS has fended off antitrust charges since it was formed in 1998 as a mechanism to pair the top two schools for a championship game in a sport that has staunchly opposed a playoff. Pressure continues to mount from lawmakers who claim the BCS is a monopoly that discriminates against schools from outside the six-conference power structure. BCS officials maintain the system does not violate antitrust laws.

“We have not heard a word from the Justice Department,” Hancock said.

ESPN. The network begins its first season with the complete BCS bowl package after out-bidding Fox for the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls (ESPN/ABC already held the Rose Bowl rights). ESPN will pay $500 million through the 2013 season, and part of acquisition includes, starting next season, moving the Rose Bowl from network to cable.